Killer Question for Sustainability folks: “Why would anybody buy an SUV?”
At the Net Zero North East event last week, there was a lengthy discussion about encouraging the general public to change behaviour to reduce their carbon footprint. This is the right question, but the answers (incentives, information, events) completely missed the point. We don’t, in general, make rational decisions.
Take SUVs: expensive to buy, expensive to run, dangerous to both occupants and other road users, polluting, difficult to park. There is no rational reason for the vast majority of people to own one – except that people like them. That emotional attraction clearly outweighs any logic.
Cycling is the opposite – dirt cheap, green, healthy, safe and easy to park. If we made travel decisions on a purely rational basis, every city would be like Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
This means we have to engage people using emotional tactics, not logic. The example I gave at the event was kerbside recycling. When we first received recycling crates 20ish years ago, only those of us who were already schlepping weekly to the bottle bank started using them. Then month by month, participation increased until it became weird not to recycle stuff.
From a purely selfish point of view, there is no rational reason to sort out your rubbish, store it until recycling day and put out a different bin. There’s certainly no financial reward for those efforts. And yet the societal pressure to do so ratcheted up until it became normal practice.
Information makes people think. Emotions make them act. This needs to be factored into every change management process, particularly for Sustainabiliy.